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American Civil War: Second Battle of Corinth


American Civil War: Second Battle of Corinth

Second Battle of Corinth

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Second Battle of Corinth - Conflict & Dates:

The Second Battle of Corinth was fought October 3-4, 1862, during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Armies & Commanders



Battle of Corinth - Background:

In the wake of the Siege of Corinth in May 1862, Major General Henry Halleck received an appointment as Union general-in-chief. Replacing Major General George B. McClellan in this role, he departed for Washington, DC in July. With his promotion, command in Mississippi reverted to Major General Ulysses S. Grant. Though Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio had moved north, Grant retained oversight of his own Army of the Tennessee and Major General William S. Rosecrans' Army of the Mississippi. With the fall of Corinth, Grant's troops spent much of the summer guarding Union supply lines back to Tennessee while Rosecrans' men protected the railroad east to Iuka. In late August, Confederate General Braxton Bragg commenced an advance north from Tennessee with the goal of invading Kentucky.

Pursued by the Army of the Ohio, Bragg instructed Major Generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price to unite their commands and prevent Grant from moving north with Buell. Aware of Confederate intentions, Grant marched against Price before the Confederate leader's men could join with Van Dorn. The resulting maneuvers saw Rosecrans defeat Price at the Battle of Iuka on September 19. Re-deploying his troops after Iuka, Grant directed Rosecrans to hold Corinth while he established his headquarters at Jackson, TN. From this position, Grant could better control his forces which included Major General William T. Sherman's men at Memphis as well as large concentrations at Jackson and Bolivar, TN.

Second Battle of Corinth - Confederate Movements:

Having retreated southwest from Iuka, Price turned northwest and rendezvoused with Van Dorn at Ripley, MS on September 28. Assuming overall command, Van Dorn moved Confederate forces north along the Memphis & Charleston Railroad before halting at Pocahontas, TN on October 1. Learning of Confederate movements, Grant remained unclear on Van Dorn's objective until hearing that the enemy had shifted to Chewalla, TN the next day. Believing that the Confederates intended to strike Corinth, Grant sent word to Rosecrans to expect an assault. The Union commander's interpretation of events proved correct as Van Dorn had hoped to take the city by attacking from the northwest while also isolating the garrison from reinforcements. Receiving word from Grant, Rosecrans remained skeptical of Van Dorn's intentions but commenced preparations as instructed.

Second Battle of Corinth - Rosecrans Prepares:

In assessing the situation, Rosecrans elected to utilize a line of entrenchments that had been constructed by Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard earlier in the year. These ran from the Chewalla Road in the northwest down along the east side of the town to the Mobile & Ohio Railroad in the south. As he possessed only two divisions from his command as well as two borrowed from the Army of the Tennessee, Rosecrans lacked sufficient strength to defend this entire line. As a result, he hoped to fight a delaying action at this line before falling back to an inner set of defenses which included a number of fortified batteries. Should this line, known as the "Halleck Line" be breached, a final defense was to be mounted at College Hill.

Second Battle of Corinth - Van Dorn Attacks:

Early on October 3, Rosecrans shifted three of his divisions into the outer line north of Corinth. While Brigaider General Thomas McKean's division assumed a position on the left, Brigadier General Thomas A. Davies' troops formed the Union center with Brigadier General Charles S. Hamilton's division to their right. Rosecrans' fourth division, led by Brigadier General David S. Stanley, was held in reserve to the south. Pressing down the Memphis Road, Van Dorn neared Corinth that morning. Preparing for battle, he placed Major General Mansfield Lovell's division on the right while Price's Corps, comprised of the divisions of Brigadier Generals Louis Hébert and Dabney Maury, formed on the left.

In planning his attack, Van Dorn intended to have Lovell strike McKean first in the hope that Rosecrans would shift troops from his right to reinforce the left. This would allow Price to assault a weakened Union line. Moving forward around 10:00 AM, Lovell opened the battle by making a heavy attack on McKean's men. As the fighting grew in intensity, Maury advanced to engage Davies' left, while Hébert's troops also entered the fray. The Union line held until around 1:30 PM when Confederate forces exploited a gap that opened between McKean and Davies' men. This compelled the two Union divisions to fall back to approximately half a mile above the Halleck Line. Around 3:00 PM, Hamilton received orders to change front and attack the flank of Price's men. Due to confused orders, this failed to occur before sunset and with the onset of night, Rosecrans' men withdrew into the Halleck Line (Map).

Second Battle of Corinth - Rosecrans Holds:

At 4:30 AM on October 4, Van Dorn's artillery opened fire on the Union lines in preparation for an assault by Hébert on Rosecrans's right. This attack developed slowly as Hébert fell ill and was replaced by Brigadier General Martin E. Green. Around 9:00 AM, this force struck Davies' line to the west of Battery Powell. To the east of the battery, Colonel W. Bruce Colbert's brigade engaged Hamilton's men. Green's initial effort succeeded in carrying Battery Powell but reinforcements from Hamilton enabled Davies to quickly reclaim the position. As the battle on the Union left developed, Maury sensed an opportunity and directed his division to drive directly on Corinth. Pushing down the Memphis Road, Brigadier General John C. Moore's brigade became engaged with Union defenders at Battery Robinett.

In heavy fighting, the Union defenders held and Moore's men were forced to fall back. On Maury's left, Colonel Charles W. Phifer's brigade pushed back part of Davies' left and entered Corinth. Counterattacked, they became confused in the town's streets and began retreating. Emerging from Corinth, they came under an intense crossfire from the Union batteries and fled the field. Fighting on the Union left was renewed with the arrival of Brigadier General William Cabell's brigade. Part of Maury's division, it had been sent to exploit the early success of Battery Powell. Finding the position back in Union hands, Cabell commenced an attack only to be driven back by enemy fire. To the west of Corinth, Lovell's men had spent the morning skirmishing with Battery Phillips in anticipation of an attack. Before this moved forward, he received word to send reinforcements to Maury. These were soon followed by additional instructions to move his division to cover the retreat of the army (Map).

Second Battle of Corinth - Aftermath:

Unable to break through the Union defenses, Van Dorn elected to end the fighting and withdraw around 1:00 PM. The fighting at the Second Battle of Corinth cost Van Dorn 473 killed, 1,997 wounded, and 1,763 captured/missing, while Rosecrans suffered 355 killed, 1,841 wounded, and 324 missing. Union reinforcements, led by Major General James B. McPherson reached Corinth around 4:00 PM. Retreating to Chewalla and Pocahontas, Confederate forces then slipped south back into Mississippi. Though Grant had sent instructions to Rosecrans to immediately pursue Van Dorn's beaten army, he failed to move until the next morning. This inaction greatly angered Grant as he saw that an opportunity had been lost.

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